THE RIVER RAT REMEMBERS Episode 8 Skiing the Eastern Region

BKistlerBKistler Posts: 87 Baller
edited July 16 in News & Other Stuff
Join former AWSA Executive Director Bruce Kistler as he recounts incidents from the Golden Age of water skiing. Interesting people—legends, characters and unsung heroes. Curious places and events. Moments of discovery and wonder. Accidents, mishaps and miscues. Glimpses from inside the organization. Personal stories from a lifetime on skis.

Episode 8 Skiing the Eastern Region Circuit

Graduating to the Boys Division in 1966, I started skiing all three events. In 1967, Doug and I travelled with Big Al throughout the Eastern Region. I had no idea how far I was jumping in practice. I was surprised that my first-ever metered jump was 73 feet, enough for an Expert rating. A month later I won my first event, winning tricks at Warwick, Rhode Island.

The following year I hit my stride, winning eight trick events, five jump events and four overall titles in nine tournaments. I joined the Century Club with a 100 foot jump. One of my fondest memories was standing up on both trick passes at the Eastern Regionals in Webster, Massachusetts with my idol Al Tyll in the boat as boat judge. I couldn’t resist a little showboating and held a toehold sideslide all the way back to the starting dock. Ironically, I didn’t win the trick event. I was bested by Carl Lyman who later skied for Cypress Gardens. Carl had gotten sideways with his older brother Lee, a top trick skier, and had to hitch hike to the tournament. That year I qualified for my first Nationals, placing 7th in Boys tricks at Canton, Ohio.

One of the thrills that summer was watching Wayne Grimditch. Wayne, whose family had a home in Lake Placid, New York, was spending his summer in the East. I watched him set the Boy’s jump record at Warren, Pennsylvania. Ditch had the most beautiful jump technique I ever saw. He had thighs like tree stumps and even after moving into the Men’s Division, he never ever crushed. No deflection whatsoever. Grimditch was one of the first jumpers to wear a helmet. There was a kid from New Jersey who wore one before Wayne did. Ed Brazil started wearing a foam snow skier’s helmet about the same time I started wearing a lightweight egg-shell motorcycle helmet.

Part of the fun in those days was camping at tournament sites. At first, we camped in my father’s old umbrella tent and slept on air mattresses. We had an open cargo box on top of the station wagon with a big River Rat logo. (Not the one that I use for my Ball of Spray profile image.) Big Al eventually bought a pickup camper and we painted the River Rat logo on the back. That was luxury.

Life lessons: Traveling to tournaments from Virginia to Maine and west to Ohio, we absorbed regional geography, local history and had all sorts of on-the-road adventures. Skiing tournaments also introduced us to people. Interesting people and some bona fide characters. Kind people. Salt-of-the-earth people of all ages who became friends. Successful people with interesting backgrounds. I rubbed shoulders with doctors, lawyers and engineers; owners of restaurants, car dealerships and other businesses; college students from many different schools; moms, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and hangers-on. The camaraderie was special. You cheered for your competitors because they were your friends. You shared their successes and their failures. Each weekend was like a family reunion.

I didn’t pursue an advanced judge’s rating but I was in demand as a trick judge and scratched my share of pink sheets. I read jump meters, occasionally served as a boat judge for slalom and jumping, assisted with scoring and even did some announcing.

I took a particular interest in administration. While still in high school I was appointed to the AWSA Eastern Region Council, sitting with men and women who were much older. I also was involved at the state level and became an officer of the Keystone State Water Ski Federation, founded by Bill Jordan and Chip Debus. We established a good relationship with the Pennsylvania Fish Commission and were able to maintain skier-friendly boating laws and enforcement policies.

In 1969, I moved into the Men’s Division. I always say that’s when Men were Men because in those days the only divisions were Men and Senior Men. I had advanced to the point where I was one of the top trick skiers in the East. My nemesis was Ken Mead who was more consistent. I was always in the hunt in jumping but couldn’t compare with jumpers like Donnie Blank (more about him in another episode) and Bruce Jenner (yes, that Bruce Jenner).

However, in both events, I had my day. My day in tricks came at Petersburg, Virginia. Men’s tricks was the first event and I remember crawling out of the camper in the morning dew still half asleep. Yawning, I dragged myself down to the starting dock—and stood up on both runs. The score came in at just over 4,000, the best run of my life. I was too groggy to be nervous. I think that was the only time I ever beat Kenny Mead.

My day in jumping came at Reading, Pennsylvania. Although I had a strong double cut, my technique on the ramp was terrible. I often crushed or split. However, that day I got it together for a personal best of 137 feet, farther than Bruce Jenner’s jump that day. We both waited for Donnie Blank to ski, certain that we would end up in 2nd and 3rd place. But on his first jump, Donnie reinjured his bad knee on landing and fell. He could not continue. It was the only time I ever beat Donnie Blank in jumping.

Few people outside the Eastern Region know that Bruce Jenner (aka Caitlyn Jenner) was a tournament water skier. I had known Bruce for several years but was not aware that the future Olympic decathlon gold medal winner was a college track star. I remember him/her as a friendly, soft-spoken kid. It’s no wonder to me that he was a track phenom as he had very long, powerful legs. His hips came up to the level of my stomach. Years later, after he became world famous and owed me nothing, he was gracious enough to author the forward to my book, Hit It! Your Complete Guide to Water Skiing.

Another of my most precious memories was being the only skier from the Eastern Region to be invited to the 1970 All American Tournament at Cypress Gardens, competing against the likes of Ricky McCormick, Mike Suyderhoud, Alan Kempton, Robbie Kempton, Bruce Cockburn and Paul Merrill. The twin-rigged Cobia towboat had odd, foamy wakes, but I did well enough to place 5th in tricks. The jumping event was held in the Lake Eloise show circle. This was in the days before they installed the tire breakwater. A storm was brewing and it was very rough. On my first jump, I aborted too late and crashed after glancing off the left corner. After I skied, competition was suspended. A fter the storm passed, the lake was glass calm.

That year I was also proud to be selected as captain of the Eastern Region Team that competed against Team Canada in the first CAN-AM tournament at Lex Carroll’s pond in Oakham, Massachusetts. I placed 7th in jumping that year at the Nationals.

Things changed rather drastically the next year when I hurt my back jumping at Petersburg. I couldn’t straighten up and spent hours on the floor with a heating pad trying to get comfortable. I went to an osteopath who put me on a traction machine then performed the “million dollar roll.” Every vertebrae in my back cracked, loudly. Fifteen minutes later I walked out of the office, standing upright for the first time in a week.

Unfortunately, I was too stubborn to play it safe and fully recover. I stopped jumping but I continued to slalom and trick. I was doing OK until I foolishly hurt my back again while trying to horse the Hydrodyne onto the trailer. The second trip to the osteopath was not nearly as productive as the first. But still I continued to ski. I almost couldn’t do a deepwater start. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Today, I live more or less pain free and have few limitations due to my back but I deeply regret my indiscretion. It caused me a lot of misery over the years.

dchristmanB_SThan_BoganPatMAndreteammalibuAlberto Soares
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